According to Native Americans, dreams that humans have while they sleep, are sent by sacred spirits as messages. According to their Legend, in the center of the Dream Catcher there is a hole. Good dreams are permitted to reach the sleeper through this hole in the web. As for the bad dreams, the web traps them and they disappear at dawn with the first light. For some, they try to determine what messages are being past onto them and what the message represents.
The Dream Catcher represents several meanings. All of the decorations and materials used to decorate them, all have a special meaning. A single bead in the middle may represent the spider that is on the web. Scattered beads throughout the web may represent good dreams that may have been caught throughout the night. A feather represents a symbol of breath or air which is attached so it hangs from the center of the ring. It is essential for life. A baby watching the air playing with the feather on her cradleboard was entertained while also being given a lesson on the importance of good air.
This lesson comes forward in the way that the feather of the Owl is kept for wisdom (a woman's feather); & the Eagle feather is kept for courage (a man's feather). This is not to say that the use of each is restricted by gender; but that to use the feather each is aware of the gender properties she/he is invoking. (Indian people, in general, are very specific about gender roles and identity.)
The use of gem stones, in some of the ones we make for sale, is not something that was done by the old ones. Government laws forbid the sale of feathers from our sacred birds. These include ALL Birds of Prey and include Hawk feathers, Bald Eagle feathers, Owl feather, Turkey Vulture feathers, and so on. Incorporating four gem stones into the Dream Catcher, is used to represent the four directions. Nature represents the spiritual inspiration in each.
When researching the long traditions of oral histories, storytelling has been passed down through the generations; from parent to child, grandparent to grandchild, or from one person to another. This is how the message continues to be passed on to future generations.
Throughout all of history, almost every culture and person has placed important significance on the true meaning of their dreams. Today, our dreams are just as powerful a force in many peoples' lives, as they were back with all of our Ancestors. Mainly, because of the meanings that are discovered in them. Regardless if your dreams are good or bad, they can confuse, inspire, or upset the dreamer.
Within the Ojibwe Tribe, dreams, or visions in the night, were so vital that children were not given a name until a “namer” (an individual designated to name the child) after the individual had a dream about what name should be given to the child. This “namer” may have also given the child a charm that was woven in the design to resemble the web of a spider so as to protect the infant’s dreams. This, along with the remaining child’s toys, such as bells, shells and pouches made of leather, this “dream catcher” was hung on the child’s cradleboard by the hoop.
In the book, Chippewa Customs, (Ojiibwe) written by Frances Densmore and published in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1979 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press explains about the Ojibwe/Chippewa Tribe in the early 1900’s. In the book, the author describes how the articles that represent the spider webs were said to: “they catch and hold everything evil as a spider’s web catches and holds everything that comes into contact with it.”
Dream Catchers, also known as Spider Web Charms, are believed to trap unimportant or bad dreams that float in the air, pretty much the way a spider traps insects that flies into its web.
The Ojibwe Tribe were the very first to design these decorations to protect their infants against bad dreams that could possibly come throughout the night. Both bad and good dreams were caught within the web, but only the good dreams were permitted to slide down along the feathers to the infants head. Thus, the bad dreams would become lost within the web and would not be able to find the way to the infant. By morning, when the sun rays would bring in light to the child’s room, it would destroy the bad dreams. Here is the Ojibwe Legend that was traditionally explained verbally.
Long ago in the ancient world of the Ojibwe Nation, the Clans were all located in one general area of that place known as Turtle Island. This is the way that the old Ojibwe storyteller say how Asibikaashi (Spider Woman) helped Wanabozhoo bring giizis (sun) back to the people.
Asibikaashi took care of her children, the people of the land, and she continues to do so this day. When the Ojibwe Nation dispersed to the four corners of North America to fulfill a prophecy, Asibikaashi had a difficult time making her journey to all those cradle boards. So, the mothers, sisters, and Nokomis (grandmothers) took up the practice of weaving the magical webs for the new babies using willow hoops and sinew or cordage made from plants. They are in the shape of a circle to represent how giizis travels each day across the sky. The dream catcher will filter out all the bad bawedjigewin (dreams) and allow only good thoughts to enter into our minds when we are just abinooji (babies). You will see a small hole in the center of each dream catcher where the good bawedjige may come through. With the first rays of sunlight, the bad dreams would perish.
When we see little Asibikaashi, we should not fear her, but instead respect and protect her. In honor of their origin, the number of points where the web the number of points where the web connected to the hoop numbered eight for Spider Woman's eight legs or seven for the Seven Prophecies.
To this day, Asibikaashi will build her special lodge before dawn. If you are awake at dawn, as you should be, look for her lodge and you will see this miracle of how she captured the sunrise as the light sparkles on the dew which is gathered there.
"A spider was quietly spinning his web in his own space. It was beside the sleeping space of Nokomis, the grandmother.
Each day, Nokomis watched the spider at work, quietly spinning away. One day as she was watching him, her grandson came in. "Nokomis-iya!" he shouted, glancing at the spider. He stomped over to the spider, picked up a shoe and went to hit it.
"No-keegwa," the old lady whispered, "don't hurt him."
"Nokomis, why do you protect the spider?" asked the little boy.
The old lady smiled, but did not answer. When the boy left, the spider went to the old woman and thanked her for saving his life.
He said to her, "For many days you have watched me spin and weave my web. You have admired my work. In return for saving my life, I will give you a gift." He smiled his special spider smile and moved away, spinning as he went.
Soon the moon glistened on a magical silvery web moving gently in the window. "See how I spin?" he said. "See and learn, for each web will snare bad dreams. Only good dreams will go through the small hole. This is my gift to you. Use it so that only good dreams will be remembered. The bad dreams will become hopelessly entangled in the web."
Note: One of the old Ojibway traditions was to hang a dream catcher in their homes. They believe that the night air is filled with dreams both good and bad. The dream catcher, when hung, moves freely in the air and catches the dreams as they float by. The good dreams know the way and slip through the center hole and slide down off the soft feather so gently the sleeper below sometimes hardly knows he is dreaming. The bad dreams, not knowing the way, get entangled in the webbing and perish with the first light of the new day.
Small dream catchers were hung on cradle boards so infants would have good dreams. Other sizes were hung in lodges for all to have good dreams.
The originals were made of night whispering willow and night seeing owl's feathers by grandmothers in the tribe and given to new babies and newly married couples for their lodges. Todays catchers are made with a variety of materials but are still hand crafted with the same loving care as the Ojibway made theirs.
The Lakota Tribe is just one group that incorporated into their heritage the Dream Catcher. Their story is a little different on how the Dream Catcher came about.
Here is their version.
Long ago when the world was young, an old Lakota spiritual leader was on a high mountain and had a vision. In his vision, Iktomi, the great trickster and teacher of wisdom, appeared in the form of a spider. Iktomi spoke to him in a sacred language that only the spiritual leaders of the Lakota could understand.
As he spoke Iktomi, the spider, took the elder's willow hoop which had feathers, horse hair, beads and offerings on it and began to spin a web. He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life...and how we begin our lives as infants and we move on to childhood, and then to adulthood. Finally, we go to old age where we must be taken care of as infants, completing the cycle.
"But," Iktomi said as he continued to spin his web, "in each time of life there are many forces -- some good and some bad. If you listen to the good forces, they will steer you in the right direction. But if you listen to the bad forces, they will hurt you and steer you in the wrong direction."
He continued, "There are many forces and different directions that can help or interfere with the harmony of nature, and also with the Great Spirit and all of his wonderful teachings."
All the while the spider spoke, he continued to weave his web starting from the outside and working towards the center.
When Iktomi finished speaking, he gave the Lakota elder the web and said...."See, the web is a perfect circle but there is a hole in the center of the circle."
He said, "Use the web to help yourself and your people to reach your goals and make good use of your people's ideas, dreams and visions. If you believe in the Great Spirit, the web will catch your good ideas -- and the bad ones will go through the hole."
The Lakota elder passed on his vision to his people and now the Sioux Indians use the dream catcher as the web of their life.
It is hung above their beds or in their home to sift their dreams and visions.
The good in their dreams are captured in the web of life and carried with them...but the evil in their dreams escapes through the hole in the center of the web and are no longer a part of them.
They believe that the dream catcher holds the destiny of their future.